Islamic Mysticism: A Secular Perspective

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Contents

  1. Sufism | Counter-Currents Publishing
  2. Islamic Mysticism: A Secular Perspective
  3. Editorial Reviews

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Islamic Mysticism with Huston Smith

Email alerts New issue alert. Receive exclusive offers and updates from Oxford Academic. Citing articles via Google Scholar. Keyness and Prosodic Prominence. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many scholars of Islam served in the colonial administration, just as contemporary scholars serve their respective governments by working in think tanks or strategic centers.

Nevertheless, Knysh argues that the various European students of Islam do not constitute a uniform community; they differ significantly. In particular, the professional responsibilities and methods of academic Orientalists are distinct from those of scholars who work in analytical centers. Every critical deconstruction of Orientalism, he suggests, should begin at home. This criticism may appear to be an apologetic for Orientalism, but this is not the case.

At the same time, it contradicts the criticism of Orientalists made by Said. In his famous book , Said conceptualized Orientalism as a discourse in dialogue with the ideas of Michel Foucault and Antonio Gramsci, who had quite opposite ideas of discourse, knowledge and power. Foucault believed that discourse is infinitely stronger than a subject, who cannot escape or resist it. Orientalism is a discursive formation consisting of models for actions and statements that Orientalists have to follow in order to situate themselves within the discipline, as well as to be understood and recognized.

In this discourse, individuals do not play any significant role.


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A certain Orientalist can be in love with the East and have warm feelings toward Muslims, but the discourse that he or she reproduces belongs to the discipline that legitimizes and supports their subjugation. Gramsci saw this process somewhat differently, and described it through his concept of cultural hegemony, which he understood as the imposition of certain ideological systems and ideas by the ruling class in order to maintain control and domination of a given society.


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According to Gramsci, intellectuals including Orientalists play a key role in this process of instilling of certain values and ideas. If, on the other hand, one follows Gramsci, then certain Orientalists deliberately create Oriental discourse, intentionally contributing to the cultural hegemony of the ruling class and serving its political, colonial and militaristic goals. The criticism of Said and his followers does not draw a clear distinction between these two interpretations, as some of their critics have also pointed out.

Concepts do not exist without actors who create, reproduce and practice them.

Sufism | Counter-Currents Publishing

It would be much more productive to consider these discourses as dialogues about Sufism, as any attempt to comprehend Sufism enriches our knowledge of this complex and variegated phenomenon. Without such a goal, why would an individual exhaust his or her body with starvation?

In addition, the rejection of mundane goods, prolonged fasting, and seclusion often lead to a mystical experience, ecstatic trance or visions. Yet is this dichotomy a product of explaining Islamic phenomena through Western concepts—a kind of Orientalist invention?

Islamic Mysticism: A Secular Perspective

According to Knysh, this division was actually created by Muslim authors. Many centuries later this view of two types of Sufism was reproduced by Western students of Islam, such as Louis Massignon and Christopher Melchert , both of whom have argued that asceticism is not the same as mysticism and vice versa. In this context, Knysh cites a prominent scholar of comparative religion, Jonathan Z.

Like their Western counterparts, they carefully collected, cataloged, compared, and tried to systematize the rituals, customs and practices of Muslim groups as well as other traditions. Obviously, they used different concepts and terms, but they often came to the same conclusions as European Orientalists. It goes without saying that these thinkers and concepts were not embedded in the Western academy, as Smith pointed out, but is this a necessary precondition for thinking critically and analytically about religion?

Editorial Reviews

This distinction was adopted and developed by the French Orientalist Henry Corbin. Later, his esoteric and philosophical understanding of Sufism was disseminated across academia by his disciples, including the well-known Muslim thinker and scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr. In addition, the author analyzes how Sufis borrowed and re-interpreted Neoplatonic concepts, adapting them to their own epistemology and cosmology.

The author notes that the translation activities of early Abbasids undoubtedly played an important role in spreading Platonism and Neoplatonism in the regions of Sufi activity. However, a no less important influence on this process of appropriation was those Quranic verses that contain gnostic and mystical elements. These verses contributed to the integration of the rich Hellenistic ethical and philosophical heritage with the Sunni ascetic-mystical currents, as well as with certain forms of Shiism.

It shows that such factors as war, economic decline and attendant corruption, the role of external actors, an ideological vacuum, competitiveness, the charisma of religious leaders, and the age and social status of various groups are important components of internal conflicts between Islamic currents in such seemingly remote and dissimilar regions regions as the Caucasus and Yemen. It should be noted that the lack of comparative analysis in religious studies, especially in Islamic studies, is an old problem.

Muhammad Arkoun, a well-known Islamic thinker who often emphasized this issue, once warned that without careful comparative analysis of the Sunni and Shiite Islamic currents, as well as of monotheistic religions, our understanding of Islam will be limited, and this limitation will create obstacles to dialogue and mutual understanding.